A Match made in Heaven?

Christoph Lutz

Tinder has been viewed as revolutionising the online dating market. Can it be used for PR and marketing?

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Communication for Leaders

Ever since the emergence of online dating in the mid-1990s, users have seized upon new opportunities to meet a partner through the power of the internet, tracking down that elusive ‘perfect match’ through personality tests and algorithms.

Newer developments in the form of location-based real-time dating apps such as Tinder or Grindr, rely on the varied affordances of mobile media. There is far less investment needed in curating an online dating profile as Tinder links to the user’s own pre-existing social profiles. Now, with a simple ‘swipe’, users can at any point, anywhere, create a potential match….and possibly a potential date.

Talking so much, saying so little

Tinder has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon. There are think pieces, amusing stories and documentaries out almost weekly talking about Tinder.

However, the intense media focus on Tinder has tended towards the extremes, concentrating on Tinder’s gamification of dating and how it is destructive to establishing long-term relationships. An example of this is the famous Vanity Fair article from 2015, entitled ‘Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse’.

Other recent media stories are similarly negative. They bring up Tinder as a reason for a rise in sexually-transmitted diseases, describe a Tinder death case in Australia, and show how Tinder users in Russia preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

There is a clear lack of any empirical evidence on this topic. Looking at previous findings about ‘old-school’ dating sites, like Match.com, it is evident that users were engaging with these sites to form relationships.

However, it was also clear that users were presenting themselves in an idealised fashion through carefully selected, sometimes even deceptively better looking, pictures. There was a certain amount of ‘staging’ going on.

The question is if the same ‘staging’ was happening on Tinder and what factors would shape the choice between authentic or deceptive self-presentation. To answer this question, 497 American Tinder users were asked about their self-presentation using factors such as gender, education, self-esteem, loneliness and narcissism.

Is this really you?

The results show that the majority of Tinder users presented themselves ‘authentically’. However, a substantial number of users are actively deceptive, either to impress their target or to compare favorably against other users/competitors.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, users with a high level of self-esteem are more likely to present themselves authentically, for example by providing an accurate photo.

Users with a low level of self-esteem and those using the app for self-validation were accordingly more likely to present themselves deceptively, i.e. provide a heavily filtered photo or include false information.

Furthermore, users who were higher educated or who identified as homosexual, were more likely to be deceptive on Tinder.

Seeking….What exactly?

An important aspect of Tinder users’ self-presentation is the varied motivations for using the app and the motivations behind authentic/deceptive presentations.

Six identified motivations are: ‘hooking up’, friendship-making, relationship-seeking, meeting new people while travelling, entertainment, and self-validation.

Some insights include:

  • Entertainment is the most pronounced motive, followed by relationship-seeking and meeting new people while traveling. ‘Hooking up’ is only the fourth most pronounced motive.
  • Men use Tinder for ‘hooking up’ more than women. However, men also use it more for relationship-seeking than women.
  • Women use Tinder more for purposes of self-validation and friendship-seeking than men.
  • Lonely users use Tinder more for entertainment and to meet new people when they are travelling.
  • Younger users and narcissists are the most likely users to use Tinder for self-validation.
  • Users with higher self-esteem use Tinder more for ‘hooking up’, for relationships, for entertainment and when they are travelling.

Implications for business

A central take-away from research on Tinder is that the divide between what the media is saying about Tinder and the reality of Tinder’s users is large.

As Tinder becomes an increasing focus for business and marketing, developing a clear understanding of use motives and user intentions is essential. Recent examples show how companies and non-governmental organizations use Tinder to reach new audiences and engage them creatively.

Last year, clever marketing helped promote the movie ‘Ex Machina’. During the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, the marketing team had created a fake Tinder profile of the movie’s main protagonist. Users who swiped right on this profile were then engaged in conversations about the movie and re-directed to the official Instagram page.

By contrast, the US fashion company Gap had to shut down their Tinder campaign because it violated the app’s terms and services. Gap, as opposed to successful examples such as the Immigrant Council in Ireland’s clever campaign against sex trafficking, had not asked Tinder’s permission.

Despite Tinder’s openness towards native advertising, we lack empirical evidence about the app’s potential for PR and marketing. Many users might feel manipulated and uneasy with the thought of targeted advertising on a platform where they are looking for love, entertainment, casual sex, or friendship.

Data driven surveys can help enlighten the future of this form of interpersonal communication, including its value for PR and marketing.


Ranzini, G. & Lutz, C. (2016), Love at first swipe? Explaining Tinder self-presentation and motives, Mobile Media and Communication. The paper was presented at the International Communication Association 2016 in Fukuoka, Japan.

This article is first published in Communication for Leaders No. 2 - 2016.

Communication for Leaders is a Science Communication Magazine published by Centre for Corporate Communication and Department of Communication and Culture at BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 13. December 2016

You can also see all news here.